Hands on: Asus ZenFone 6 Review

Asus has resurrected the ZenFone 6 and like a zombie rising from the grave, this phone boasts a dual camera setup that rises up and over from its back to face the front.

First Impressions

The Asus ZenFone 6 is certainly intriguing, thanks to its revolving camera module and impressively large battery, but there's stiff competition out there that might undercut the otherwise promising value for money on offer here.

Key Specifications

  • 6.4-inch 19.5:9 Full HD+ IPS LCD
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
  • 48-megapixel primary sensor
  • 13-megapixel ultra-wide angle sensor
  • Revolving camera setup
  • 5000mAh battery
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • 6GB/8GB RAM
  • 64GB/128GB/256GB + microSD up to 2TB

The Asus ZenFone 6 is finally here, complete with an intriguing camera setup, big battery and beefy processor.

Having spent a few hours with the phone, it’s interesting what Asus has tried to do here. It’s sprinkled in a couple of headline capabilities, used on-trend design elements and given it a price that justifies the absence of any features which more expensive flagships still possess.

On first impressions, this recipe feels like it works, but there’s still a question mark over whether it’s collectively enough to convince you, the buyer, to throw your cash towards the Taiwanese tech giant’s new handset over more costly, but more capable alternatives.

The Zenfone 6 performs acrobatics to avoid using a notch

Notches, sliders, hole-punches, pop-ups – manufacturers have turned to all sorts of different methods and mechanisms in an effort to remove or conceal every element on the front of their devices that isn’t the display. In the case of the new ZenFone 6, it’s safe to say Asus has taken an outside-the-box approach to such a quandary.

Asus ZenFone 6 back camera hands on

The phone’s dual rear camera array sits high on the phone’s curved Gorilla Glass back, while on the front there’s no apparent Samsung Galaxy S10-style hole-punch camera, certainly no notch and no OnePlus 7 Pro-esq pop-up snapper either. Instead, the rear camera module revolves around the top edge of the phone to face forward at the tap of a virtual button.

On the upside, this means you have the might of the phone’s primary cameras at your disposal, even when snapping selfies. At launch, watching side-by-side 4K 60fps electronically-stabilised sample footage compared against the lesser video that the Galaxy S10 was able to muster, was pretty impressive.

On the subject of Samsung, it too has produced a phone with a rotating rear camera arrangement that doubles as the front-facer – the Galaxy A80 – Asus’ implementation is a little different, however.

Asus ZenFone 6 front camera hands on

The ‘flip camera’ (Asus has designed a rather swish logo to support this self-explanatory branding) as the company calls it, is housed within what it promises is a highly durable liquid metal housing, which is supposedly four times stronger than stainless steel.

The whole housing is then linked to a custom 13-piece gear system and has to squeeze some 32 signal cables and 17 power cables through a 2mm opening in the side of the module, into which the phones camera’s and various sensors reside.

It all seemed rather precarious when Asus granted the crowd a peek at the inner workings of the phone’s standout feature on stage, but as with OnePlus and Oppo before it – two companies who’ve also had to prove the technical reliability of the mechanised parts on their smartphones – Asus threw some numbers at us.

Asus ZenFone 6 Flip Camera schematic on stage

The flip camera is tested to 100,000 actuations, which Asus equated to five years of intense use, assuming you were snapping in the region of 28 selfies a day. While this should instil confidence as only the most extreme of narcissists would be able to approach such a frequency, this doesn’t account using it for face unlock or other use cases the company pushed, like vlogging, which is something to bear in mind.

Beyond revolving the camera around for a selfie, you also have the option to orient the snapper setup anywhere through its 180-degree range of motion. With this, you can pull off auto panoramas, where the cameras move but the phone doesn’t or take timed shots by setting the phone down on any flat surface while the cameras are positioned at 90-degrees.

Asus ZenFone 6 camera rotation UI hands on

Asus has even programmed in a dedicated camera control UI element so you can move it around from within third-party apps like Instagram and Google Lens; the feature works surprisingly well on first impressions.

Familiar camera hardware that’s made or broken by software

Sony’s sizeable 1/2-inch 48-megapixel IMX586 is the main camera sensor on the ZenFone 6, but it’s also found on the Honor View 20Xiaomi Mi 9, OnePlus 7, OnePlus 7 Pro, Motorola One Vision, the aforementioned Samsung Galaxy A80 and a bevvy of other devices to boot.

It’s a popular component for good reason but seeing it in use across so many devices from so many different manufacturers does highlight the importance of competent algorithmic image processing.

Asus ZenFone 6 camera modes hands on

Each company does things a little differently and depending on how well Asus’ engineers have tuned the software to support the sensor, it could turn this 48-megapixel unit from an average snapper into a serious cameraphone contender.

Some modes and features, like Portrait and RAW capture, are available whether you use it as a front or rear camera, while others, such as Super Night, only apply when it’s serving as the phone’s main snapper.

It’s also accompanied by a 13-megapixel ultra-wide angle sensor, which boasts an impressively-broad 125-degree field of view, complete with software-based distortion correction. It’s this secondary sensor that helps with depth data for portrait shots.

Touches of style but mainly a functional design

Thanks to its efforts with the camera, the flat 6.4-inch ‘NanoEdge’ display really does dominate most of the phone’s front. It’s protected by Gorilla Glass 6 and after passing a slight lip, meets with a rounded and chamfered aluminium frame that runs the entirety of the phone’s edge.

On the back is more Gorilla Glass, this time curved; granting the phone a comfortable but sturdy feel (supported by its notable 190-gram weight). The Midnight Black model I trialled boasts touches of blue – seen on the Asus logo and accented on the metal power key. There’s also a Twilight Silver variant that sports a gradient back not dissimilar from the one found on the Sky Blue Honor 10 Lite.

Asus ZenFone 6 launch colours

Above the power key you’ll also find a volume rocker and a dedicated Smart Key, which by default summons the Google Assistant but can be programmed to quick launch apps and features – an appreciated and convenient addition.

Moving parts, like the phone’s flip camera, usually mean no water resistance and that certainly seems to be the case here. The phone does, at least, pack a 3.5mm headphone jack (with support for FM radio) and Asus even throws some wired headphones in-box.

The cleanest take on Zen UI to date

Not dissimilar from Huawei’s Emotion UI, Asus’ ZenUI has come under fire in the past for being heavy-handed and downright unappealing to look at. ZenUI 6 atop Android Pie as it appears on the ZenFone 6, seems like a significant step in the right direction.

The main crux of the redesign is in its willingness to more readily embrace Google’s stock take on Android. ZenUI 6 still can’t relinquish some of the company’s bloatware, but on the flip side does include some richer features that surpass what the Pixel Launcher is able to offer.

Asus ZenFone 6 gestures UI hands on

While UI layout and some elements appear and feel stock, you’ll still find a bevvy of additional Asus apps (some more welcome than others), plus enhancements like one-handed mode, a screen recorder with gaming tools built-in, quick-launch gestures and more.

At launch, Asus also revealed that its optimisations have resulted in reduced app load times across the board. What’s more, beyond joining the Android Beta Program, Asus promised on stage that the ZenFone 6 can expect an update to both Android Q and Android R, as and when they launch.

The Asus Zenfone 6 screen takes centre stage

Thanks to Asus’ efforts with the flip camera, the extended 19.5:9 display enjoys wonderfully thin bezels, resulting in a promising 92 percent screen-to-body ratio. The IPS LCD panel integrates a blue light filter plus support for HDR10-compliant content.

Asus ZenFone 6 HDR hands on

The choice of display tech means it certainly doesn’t boast quite the same visual ‘pop’ as its OLED-laden rivals but it’s an undeniably pleasing display in proportion to its glass and metal body. Asus has also added a dark mode, which again, does prove quite as useful where LCDs are concerned but is appreciated nonetheless.

The screen also benefits from a number of software enhancements, starting with a one-handed mode but also thanks to the Splendid colour management toolset – which lets you adjust colour temperature and accuracy with ease.

The ZenFone 6 is powerful and built to last

Qualcomm’s Jussi Nevanlinna spent a notable about of time waxing lyrical on the virtues of his company’s latest and greatest chipset. Indeed, the Snapdragon 855 that’s also found inside everything from the US Samsung Galaxy S10, to the OnePlus 7, to the forthcoming Sony Xperia 1 is also powering the ZenFone 6.

Nevanlinna stated that the 7nm chip is 45 percent faster in CPU and 20 percent faster in GPU performance compared to the ZenFone 6’s flagship predecessor, the 845-powered ZenFone 5Z.

Battery is also a huge part of the ZenFone 6’s appeal. On stage, the company representatives where very clear that Asus favours greater outright longevity compared to fast or wireless charging technologies in the fight against battery anxiety. As such, the ZenFone 6 comes equipped with a huge 5000mAh cell, which paired with the Full HD+ resolution display should ensure the phone is able to dole out some impressive battery life figures.

Quick Charge 4.0 support was mentioned on stage but you can expect a more convention 18W fast-charger in-box.

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